Seismic Data Management Operations, from Archives to Desktop (September 1996)

Bruce Sketchley of Panther Software offers his perspective on seismic data management

The purpose of this article is to give a brief overview of the status of the options oil companies are encountering today in the area of seismic data management. Data management in general is the topic "du jour" right now and seismic data management in particular is the subject of a lot of that attention. The issue of how to better manage seismic data, both the metadata and the traces themselves has become a Point of focus for oil companies and product/service providers.


The market has been defining itself over the last two to three years via a steadily increasing number of seminars, industry discussion groups, conferences and through the gradual refinement of the product and service offerings that vendors bring to the table. It appears at this time that the options oil companies have to choose from fall into two main areas. The first and the most competitive arena is that of seismic archiving. By archiving, I am referring to the broad range of issues relating to the managing of the large volumes of seismic trace data that companies have accumulated over past years and that is being rapidly compounded by the vast quantifies of new data being generated every year. The problem set includes the issues around building and maintaining accurate inventory type databases referencing the trace data volumes but possible solutions key on how to handle the conversion of huge data volumes from old media/storage techniques into newer, more effective access and retrieval systems. This has turned out to be the domain of the bigger vendors involved in providing seismic data management options. To date the primary players in the game are companies like IBM/Petrobank, Schlumberger and CGG/PECC on an international basis with a number of other solutions beginning to surface in local or regional areas.

Big bucks!

It has become a hotly contested area of business for these firms as they all go after the large dollar amounts that will be spent by those companies and countries who have identified seismic data management as something that will receive serious budget allocations. The expenditures can be very large in some cases so it is a very competitive market. The vendors offer a range of options that include different media options, robotic tape systems, varying levels of interactive data access, associated tape transcription services and so on. Potential customers will end up making decisions on which vendor to go with based on the relative technical and performance merits of the different offerings, how well they integrate with other data management initiatives, cost etc. As a means of dealing with the inherent high costs of large scale seismic archiving options we have also seen the evolution of consortium-type initiatives by multiple oil companies to leverage the economy of scale and shared resource advantages available. The best known current examples of this are the Diskos project in Norway and the CIDAI group in England (currently just for well logs but now focusing on seismic).


However, the essential piece missing to date has been the managing of seismic data at the desktop level inside the oil company itself. The problems every company wrestles with in, trying to deliver quality data in a timely manner to the people who end up deciding where to drill a well are well known and are consistent worldwide.

The issue internally has always been how to give end-users enough information about the seismic data the company has access to so they can make intelligent decisions about what data to use and then ideally just go get the actual files. Today this is a huge workflow problem for most companies and it is getting worse as the volumes of data increase dramatically.

Fundamental change

Archiving solutions by themselves will not solve the problem. Companies need an option they can implement that allows them to fundamentally change how they handle seismic today - they need to change the processes around managing seismic data within their organizations now or the problems will just get worse. Solutions such as the SDMS system from Panther Software Corp. based in Calgary, Canada are targeted directly at this end of the problem set. SDMS provides users with the capability to directly query all the metadata describing their seismic files and then literally use a "drag and drop" operation that retrieves the relevant seismic trace data and loads it directly into the target interpretation application. Equally important, users can also now easily move seismic data between different vendors' applications and the number of applications available to work with in this way should increase quickly as Panther makes available a development kit that other developers can utilize. Oil companies can correct those practices and processes that directly impact the people who look for oil and gas and this should positively affect the business drivers related to reducing cycle times and risk, improving success ratios and return on investment.

Real question

So, for oil companies that see seismic data management as a key problem area the real question will come down to how to select and implement a solution that solves both the immediate, internal "get the data to the user" problem and the longer term archiving strategies. Fortunately, companies have the option of addressing both issues concurrently or sequentially and utilizing the scalability inherent in these systems to build future costs into the budgeting process. There is a strong willingness by the different vendors to work together for more competitive solutions. Panther, for example has established business relationships or is in discussion with companies like IBM, Schlumberger/ GeoQuest and Landmark/Halliburton to better integrate the offerings each company brings to the data management arena. Given the scope of the seismic data management problem and the fact that it is just a component of the overall data management environment it will involve a combined effort by multiple vendors and customers to achieve optimal results. The best answer will be one that focuses on both sides of the seismic

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